ACS International School

Mayfield School secures future of prestigious International Music Competition

Published Tuesday 29th of September 2015 11:32:15 AM

This week saw the launch of the 2016 Tunbridge Wells International Young Concert Artists’ Competition, which, for the first time, will form part of the equally prestigious Mayfield Festival of Music and the Arts, and will be hosted at Mayfield School. The leading independent girls' school is delighted to have helped to secure the future of the Tunbridge Wells competition, which has played an important role in the early careers of internationally celebrated musicians such as Anne Sofie von Ottie, Paul Lewis and Savitra Grier since it started in 1979. It certainly seems an ideal scenario for all concerned: the competition will be incorporated into a world-renowned classical festival; the festival will be enriched by some of the best young musical talent in the world, and both will be able to benefit from Mayfield School's hospitality and superb range of musical venues including the fourteenth-century Chapel and its recently refurbished Concert Hall. Most delighted of all is Mayfield School. Headmistress Antonia Beary explains why. "We are hugely excited to be supporting the Competition and the Festival, not only because of the wonderful opportunities for our own girls to engage with top class musicians, but also because of the role we can play in extending the event to include more young people in our local community. We hope to involve as many people as possible, bringing our students together with children from local junior and senior schools, to enable them all to seize an increasingly rare opportunity to witness world class talent here in Mayfield." But there is more to this than simply enjoying high calibre musical performances. Miss Beary is clearly an enthusiastic supporter of the Arts. She explains: "Cornelia Connelly, who founded our school 150 years ago, was a firm believer in the importance of a wide-ranging and varied curriculum in order to produce balanced, well-rounded individuals. Accordingly, we place a great weight on nurturing creativity as much within the curriculum, as we do outside the classroom. From ceramics to chemistry, music to maths, we encourage our girls to be creative in all that they do. Unfortunately an increasingly results-driven, utilitarian education system risks stifling this creativity, so I feel it is important that we support ventures which provide opportunities for young people to be inspired". Indeed, music is very important at Mayfield. As well as an enviable selection of musical venues spread across its scenic site, the school has a dedicated building to house its music department, where students receive extra-curricular instrumental or choral tuition from 20 peripatetic music teachers. The girls have the opportunity to join a number of orchestral groups, from a full orchestra to flute trios and string quartets. Mayfield also has a particularly strong tradition of choral singing, with a choir for virtually every genre of music! Most prestigious of all, and the most selective, is the acclaimed Schola Cantorum which regularly performs at venues across Europe, and has sung in recent years at Westminster Abbey, The Menin Gate and the Vatican. The benefits of playing music are well-documented, even as far back as Confucius, who asserted "Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without". Music is accessible to everyone, and research shows that you don't even have to be 'good' at it to feel its benefits. Playing music is a way of elevating the mind beyond the mundane. It fosters self-expression and the release of emotion, relieving stress and bringing pleasure both to the creator of the music, and to those around them. It brings a sense of achievement and boosts self-esteem. There is also the social aspect: playing or singing in a group means working as a team, it teaches social and interpersonal skills. Unlike some competitive sports, the choral or orchestral setting is non-threatening. No-one is in the spotlight and everyone plays a small but vital role in creating something bigger than themselves. Renowned for challenging the ‘hothouse mentality’ and recognised for combining outstanding results with exceptional pastoral care, Mayfield is keen to reap the emotional benefits of participating in music for its students. The school's commitment to music appears to be helping rather than hindering the school's excellent academic record, a trend supported by science. Research suggests, with increasing certainty, that regularly playing a musical instrument can improve brain function, in some cases increasing the IQ by up to 7 points, let alone the therapeutic properties and effects of music. Miss Beary agrees. "It makes perfect sense: not only does learning music teach self-discipline and perseverance, but it improves comprehension, memory, concentration and listening skills, all of which will contribute not only to academic success, but in life generally." Yet Miss Beary has concerns that this evidence is being ignored in this time where education seems to be becoming utilitarian: all about quantitative testing and budget cuts. She explains: “Music making should not be measured by increased IQ points; but the enjoyment of the performance by the musician and the audience. I worry that, in the face of the evidence, our education system is moving away from the performing and creative arts, in favour of the more ‘vocational’ subjects which seem easier to measure and examine. These subjects are of course important, but not to the exclusion of all others: science and art do not have to be mutually exclusive. Schools have a responsibility to provide pupils with the tools they will need to succeed in and enjoy life after academia; pupils should leave school able to think creatively and present themselves and their ideas confidently. Such skills are vital for driving progress in any industry, not just those traditionally associated with the arts. At Mayfield, we take the view that students can - indeed should- study science and maths and be creative. Each individual pupil is encouraged to choose her own path, and we go out of our way to accommodate unusual subject combinations, which often complement each other in unexpected ways. We have a number of girls who study combinations as diverse as Chemistry, Ceramics and French for example. They may go on to university, to study Science, join the Foreign Office or become a sculptor: each pupil should have the opportunity to follow her passion and be encouraged to make links between them, rather than compartmentalise subjects." This approach does appear to work, in Biology, Chemistry and Physics 90% of all candidates in achieving A/A* in each subject at GCSE in 2015, and results are similarly impressive at A level. Maths is the most popular subject at A Level. Most of the school’s leavers go on to study at top universities, and last year six girls went on to study STEM subjects at Oxbridge universities. How do the girls find the time to study when they spend so much time making music? (Not to mention the time spent playing sport, riding horses and engaging in the myriad of other extra-curricular pursuits in which the school excels.) Miss Beary laughs. "It's precisely because they are interested in so many areas outside the classroom that their academic results are so good! We encourage our girls to challenge themselves as much outside the classroom as inside it. Each girl has particular talents, and it is our job to help her find and develop them. That may be on the sports field, in the debating chamber, in the ceramics studio, or all three, and for many of our girls it is also with music. In this way we enable them to develop the confidence to succeed in life, and by extension, academically." The future looks bright for the girls at Mayfield School, and it seems the Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition could not be in safer hands. The 2016 Mayfield Festival will take place from Sunday 24 April to Sunday 8 May with the International competition running between Thursday 28 April and Sunday 1 May.
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